Fiat 500 Abarth

The new Fiat 500 Abarth packs a lot of power in its compact frame. But why is it covered in enamelled scorpions?

There's something hugely appealing about the unexpectedly fast, small car. It's the combination of cute looks and the promise of major amusement from cheeky, giant-killing performance. So, a Fiat 500 wearing big wheels, a roof-mounted wing and enough stripes to decorate a general is a pleasing eyeful. This, and the fact that the 500 is impossibly stylish to start with. You might be surprised not to find a single Fiat badge, unless you go burrowing deep in the engine bay, but it is liberally sprinkled with enamelled scorpions, some of which crop up in unexpected places – like the real thing – such as high on the rear wings.

Model: Fiat Abarth 500
Price: estimated at £13,500, on sale in January 2009
Engine: 1368cc 4 cylinder petrol, 16 valves, 135bhp at 5500rpm, 152lb ft at 3000rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, front engine, front-wheel drive
Performance: 127mph, 0-62mph in 7.9sec, 43.4mpg official average
C02: 155g/km

The scorpion is the symbol of Abarth, a tuning company founded in 1949 by a Carlo of the same name, who adopted his scorpion birth sign as a logo. Abarth became famous in the 1950s for tuning baby Fiats – mostly 500s and 600s – to go impossibly fast, just as race-car maker John Cooper persuaded BMC to make quick Minis a decade later. Abarth's cars picked up many victories – he was paid per win – so Fiat bought Abarth in 1971 then, as often happens when a corporate whale swallows a minnow, it lost interest, often sticking the scorpion on cars undeserving of lethal insect embellishment such as the Stilo Abarth hot hatch – about as hot as Gordon Brown's re-election prospects.

All that has changed with the re-invigorated Fiat Auto, which decided to rejuvenate Abarth not just as a brand but as a whole new company complete with race division, engineering department, a CEO and a marketing operation that will sell you everything from crate-packed tuning kits to clothing. But its main mission is to produce small, sporting, rebranded Fiats. The 500 is the born-again Abarth's second car – the first is a hot Punto – and the company has done more than run wild with badging: it sits on stylish 16in alloy wheels; wears sill extensions that suck it closer to the road; has deep bumpers with extra air intakes and extractors; fashionable red brake callipers; and, if you order a white one, there's red stripes and red door mirror housings.

What really makes it special is a 135bhp, turbocharged engine that's powerful enough to whiz the Abarth to 62mph in 7.9 seconds. To get this kind of performance you need to press an elegant button marked "sport" on the painted dashboard, the stabbing of which does much to change the character of the car. More pulling power is unleashed and the engine's mood alters, its response to the accelerator flips from the brisk-but-measured to the sharply enthusiastic and the power steering weights up to feel meatier. It does feel artificially springy as it's initially turned, but the extra resistance mid-turn is confidence building.

Bar the occasionally weird steering feel this is an excellent feature, making the Abarth easier to drive and more economical in urban landscapes, though a little more manic for those twisting road moments. The bumpily twisting roads typical of Britain are not surfaces that Fiats, sporting or otherwise, have handled well over the years. Suspension that crashes noisily over potholes, less than incisive cornering and spongy brakes have too often relegated fast Fiats to the netherworld. The Abarth certainly has the look, but now it appears to have the handling too. Roadholding is excellent, the 500 is pretty willing to follow your chosen trajectory without running wide, and when it does, a clever traction control system brakes individual wheels to keep it on line. Staunching the engine's output is what these systems usually do and the effect, in terms of fluency of progress, is much the same as driving into a pool of molasses. With this system it's possible to proceed briskly and safely without having your rhythm wrecked.

What we don't know yet, because our test took place on an alabaster-smooth track, is whether this baby Fiat rides comfortably. It will certainly be firm, but – if a recent UK roads experience in its big brother, the Abarth Punto, is a guide – rarely uncomfortable. Which is a good sign for keen drivers, as is the fine feel of both cars' brakes. So at last we have some small Fiats – or Abarths, rather – that keen drivers will enjoy. The 500 isn't quite as deft or supple as a Mini Cooper, and the Fiesta ST shades it for control sensitivity, particularly its steering, but the differences aren't vast. Against the Ford, and every other hot hatch in this class apart from the Mini, the 500 has an interior of alluring appeal. The leather-trimmed wheel is stylish and pleasing to hold, you get aluminium-faced pedals and a matching clutch footrest, an additional dial to indicate the most economical gearshift points in normal mode, or maximum revs in the sport setting and, if you order your interior in red leather, the front chairs resemble bucket seats from the 1960s. The standard 500 has a pretty inviting interior, and these features only heighten the urge to get in and drive. It's an experience you're going to be pretty pleased with.


Mini Cooper 1.6: £13,325
Less powerful than the Fiat, and less dressy, but very well finished, has a superior ride and more space. Tempting options soon boost the price, including extra-cost air conditioning.

Toyota Yaris 1.8 VVT-i 3dr: £13,655
A big engine for a little car, geared for smooth cruising rather than sharp acceleration. Lots of equipment, including TomTom sat-nav. Civilised, but cheaply finished and less of an entertainer.

Vauxhall Corsa 1.6 Sri 3dr: £14,320
Stylish, fun-to-drive and well-appointed, if less characterful than the Abarth. The ride's firm, though for a sports model this matters less, but its relative thirst may be an issue.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments